School’s out: How the pandemic could change the way your family travels

Jul 31, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether you’re traveling next month or next year.

School doors abruptly closed in March 2020 and haven’t reopened since.

With August and September start dates just around the corner, some school districts have released their plans for the fall — subject to change, of course. Here in Texas, our local public school district is letting parents choose between in-person and online learning. You can change your selection once every nine weeks, but there’s no hybrid option.

In other locations, students may be in class part of the day, part of the week or every other week. Other families don’t have a choice at all: their districts have gone completely online for the rest of the year.

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But in many scenarios, parents must make tough choices. These are complicated and uncertain times, so my heart is with everyone navigating these murky waters. Physical safety and the mental well-being of children, educators and extended families will be the most important factors in whatever decisions parents make.

Because families won’t necessarily be stuck at home five days a week from the end of this summer until early next, many parents are reimaging their approach to travel. Call it looking on the bright side or getting creative, the fact of the matter is most families won’t be tethered to a rigid school calendar any time soon.

So, is remote learning the latest travel trend sparked by a global pandemic?

Online school and work means freedom to change locations

In recent weeks, many employers announced decisions to work remotely until at least 2021. This includes TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures. For that reason, families who choose to enroll their kids in remote learning or homeschool instead are playing on a new field with new rules.

Theoretically, you could load up the RV and do work and school from the road while enjoying national parks on the side.

Related reading: Why I hope buying an RV saves travel for our family

Image by Andrey Armyagov via Shutterstock
Image by Andrey Armyagov via Shutterstock

Perhaps you could even explore long-term vacation home rentals as a way to travel without worrying about pesky quarantine restrictions. Some newly remote families are considering spending the last weeks of summer at a beach home rental when peak season rates have passed, now that they know school will restart online. Or, come fall, you could enjoy the foliage from an Airbnb in the Colorado Rockies — that sounds amazing to me.

Related reading: 5 ways to use points to book vacation home rentals

Another option: create a “quarantine bubble” with family or friends you’ve been separated from since March. This is a trend we’ve heard from those learning there won’t be any in-person classes in their area until at least January.

If you want to safely explore another location without the commitment, this might be your chance.

Take advantage of long weekend getaways

For parents choosing a hybrid school experience, another emerging concept is to spend long weekends away. Families are learning that there will be entire weeks, or portions of weeks, where students will be out of the classroom.

This might be when you can finally try those road trips out of the New York City-area to destinations such as Cape May, or even venture to Colonial Williamsburg to get an additional history lesson while away from school.

Cape May (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
Cape May (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Nearby national parks and beaches might also be popular long weekend or off-week destinations where you can work and learn in the mornings and play in the afternoon.

Traditional homeschool and road school families have long known the benefit of off-season travel, but schedule flexibility is a new phenomenon for most.

Related reading: National parks begin to reopen: Here’s everything you need to know to plan a trip

Be prepared to revise your plans

Even if you think you know what the school year will look like, we’ve all learned that we probably don’t know and that the situation can change at any minute.

Some school districts have already modified previously announced 2020 to 2021 school calendars, and more changes may follow as the global health crisis continues to evolve. Some TPG staffers had already booked summer 2021 family trips, but some school years are now getting pushed back a few weeks as 2020 start dates are delayed.

In other cases, some school districts haven’t yet announced which kids will be in person for designated weeks or when traditional breaks might fall. This leaves families unable to make any firm travel plans (not that anything is really set in stone these days).

Related reading: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers

But wait — what about sheltering in place?

Experts say different types of travel to and from various locations all have different levels of risk — as do close-to-home activities, for that matter. A self-contained family trip in an RV that schools from the wilderness compared to a trip in a crowded tourist area known where people aren’t wearing masks or keeping their distance are very different things.

This certainly isn’t a normal year, so some popular family getaways that worked for breaks in previous years could put the class at risk as the kids get back together, at least for those doing partial in-person learning.

So, while some families are getting creative learning in a school year without traditional boundaries, know that others will continue sheltering at home. If you’re in a schooling scenario that brings children together, even if only every other week, factor in the role that your travel on the off-weeks may play into increasing the risk posture for in-person weeks.

Even if you’re very careful and thoughtful about where you go, travel shaming is a very real thing right now too, so even if you decide it’s safe to go somewhere, others might disagree (and let you know about it).

(Photo by Perry Mastrovito/Getty Images)
(Photo by Perry Mastrovito/Getty Images)

Pro tips

Whether you’re sticking with at-home learning or you’ve committed to planning your exit strategy from your primary address, here are some details to consider.

Only make bookings you can change

Your school calendar might abruptly change, or you might realize that teaching at home simply isn’t working for your family. Coronavirus cases and lockdown restrictions might get worse, but might also (hopefully) get better. Perhaps by 2021, or toward the end of the school year, the situation could turn a positive corner. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Quarantine restrictions might change

Where you live, or where you want to travel, could introduce new quarantine restrictions that might prevent you from continuing with your planned travels. There’s also a chance your school could bar your child from in-person attendance if he or she participates in prohibited activities or travels to certain locations. We’ve already seen that happen in non-school settings such as at gyms, in healthcare settings and the office for those who travel out of their area.

Lean into programs that allow changes

If you’re interested in making plans to learn on the road but want flexibility, target programs and point currencies that allow for changes. For example, if you want a home rental with flexibility, look into Homes & Villas by Marriott. Many of those properties allow for a penalty-free cancellation within 30 days of travel or within 10 days with just a $75 credit card processing fee.

On the airline front, many airlines are continuing to allow for free changes on paid tickets, though keep in mind that free changes aren’t the same thing as refunds. If you’re redeeming traditional airline miles, that type of redemption may be more or less flexible depending on the program and any elite status you may have. For example, United is allowing free changes on paid tickets. If you’re booked on United MileagePlus miles, however, you must make the change at least 30 days in advance to avoid fees without a high tier of status.

As long as you make changeable bookings to places that you can confidently and safely visit, this might be the year of classes and meetings by morning and hiking or exploring by late afternoon. In fact, if you think that’s what you want to do, you should probably get busy booking home rentals or campsites, as they could become scarce if everyone gets the same idea.

Related: How to book your first RV rental

Bottom line

For years, I’ve fantasized about a world in which we could keep our “normal” life but somehow integrate a month spent exploring the mountains or relaxing on the beach. I’m not sure this will be the year the fantasy becomes reality, but school buildings and offices will no longer be the barriers keeping it from happening.

Featured image by Reto Deuber / EyeEm / Getty Images

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